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Science education: Is Australia sabotaging its future? January 29, 2013

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Secondary Education.
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from Wanasinghe Chandrasena

Science is a critical area for maintaining all that is good in Australia, and for addressing problems that need addressing. Accordingly, the Australian Prime Minister Ms Julia Gillard has expressedthe view  that “scientists are needed more than ever”when  addressing the nation’s most eminent scientists gathered for the presentation on the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science in 2010.

Science focuses on meeting basic human needs by laying the necessary foundation in diverse fields such as agriculture, medicine, other chemical industries (e.g., polymer, glass, steel, electric, electronic, stationery etc.), and transportation. Hence, science understanding is an increasingly precious resource throughout the world. As science underpins the development of technology, we cannot expect the development of technology without science. Despite the recognised need for better science education, many students (and their parents) consider science irrelevant to their personal interests and goals and are unaware of how many jobs require this knowledge. Why do they believe this?

The numbers of students pursuing science post-schooling continue to decline not only here in Australia, but internationally as well. There is a growing concern that the reduction in enrolments in science and technology subjects in Australia is threatening the success of the country’s innovation economy. For example, a decline in the study of basic sciences is predicted to affect Australia’s high technology economic sectors. Moreover, irrespective of the economic effects, the decline of interest in science is a serious matter for any society trying to raise the level of its scientific literacy, given that such literacy has so many applications in daily life.

 Leading academics have warned that Australia is jeopardising its future, and will not have the technical workforce to compete in the global marketplace because nothing is being done to tackle a shortage of scientists. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/10/1092102454146.html), it was reported that Australia will need an extra 75,000 scientists in the fields of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Similarly a number of recent media articles have forecast potential shortages in science graduates. Perhaps in response, the article published in The Australian (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/blueprint-to-lift-teaching-standards-with-maths-and-science-to-be-compulsory/story-fn59nlz9-1226438982629) reports that under the reforms proposed by the New South Wales government, science and math are to be compulsory for aspiring teachers.

It is said that school science is often difficult and discouraging. It is true that science can be seen by many as a difficult subject. But it can also be an exciting subject.  The number of students taking science in Year 11 and 12 in Australia has been falling steadily since 1976, and the proportion doing physics has almost halved. A similar type of situation has been experienced in other developed countries such as USA, UK, and Germany.

 Some research has shown that the decline in science enrolments is related to many interrelated factors such as students’ academic abilities, teaching methods, the absence of motivation to study science, and a lack of interest in science subjects. I am currently conducting research that aims to identify the barriers to undertaking science for secondary students. A number of perceived barriers have been raised surrounding issues of: the difficulty of the subject matter, deficiencies in quality teaching, lack of positive attitudes among students towards science, a notable absence of stories in the media that promote the benefits of science, and the limited perceived career opportunities available in science.

  I am not suggesting that every student should want to be a scientist, but we need to encourage our students (tomorrow’s leaders) to at least consider the benefits of pursuing a science career. As such, many issues must be addressed, and can be addressed, to ensure science is advanced in this country. Preparing now can save us from repairing in the future.

Wanasinghe Chandrasena is a doctoral student in the Centre for Positive Psychology and Education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.


2012 in review January 6, 2013

Posted by Editor21C in Uncategorized.
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